fiscal DEFICITs




FamiliesFirst Initiative









1234 Dartmouth Road, Madison, Wisconsin 53705; 608.238.0858;


Wisconsin faces unprecedented structural financial deficits in an era of economic recession and declining revenues. There also is public concern that taxes are not being used wisely. In order to reduce these deficits, we must directly connect them to the costs of violence, crime, and dependency resulting from struggling families.


If we strengthened all of our struggling families, we would eliminate more than 25% of our state and 45% of our county expenditures.


The high costs of violence, crime, and dependency are directly related to the fragmentation and discontinuity of education, health, and human services because they focus on individual children, adolescents, and adults as if they did not live in families:


A FamiliesFirst Initiative would address all of these realities by improving the efficiency of our state and local governmental agencies through coordinating and integrating all policies and programs that affect families. It would recognize that each childs and each parents most important priority is a thriving family. It would focus state policies on strengthening families rather than on individual children, youth, and adults through local Coordinated Services/Wraparound teams. These teams already have significantly reduced state and local expenditures and enabled closing one Juvenile Correctional Institution.



Addressing Our Structural Deficit


There are three ways to resolve our structural deficit: 1) raise our taxes, 2) grow our economy, and 3) improve the efficiency of our governments.


1) Raise our taxes

In comparison to other states in 2012 Wisconsin was:

5th highest per capita on all individual state & local taxes.

43rd as a favorable tax climate for corporations.

Although the tax burden in Wisconsin as a percentage of personal income dropped from 13.25% in 1994 to 11.1% in 2012, raising taxes is not a popular choice.


2) Grow our economy

According to the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in 2010 Wisconsins estimated median family income was $66,500, ranking 17th among the states. Wisconsins Index of Social Health rating dropped from 8th in 2003 to 18th in 2008. The University of Wisconsin School of Business publication Wisconsins Economy in the Year 2010 stresses that maintaining our quality of life is essential to growing our economy. Preserving our natural resources, strengthening our families, securing safe neighborhoods, and maintaining high educational standards are essential to retain and attract productive workers.

If more Wisconsin families were strengthened and had safe neighborhoods in which to raise their children to become productive citizens, our economy would have a more productive workforce. A child from a thriving family grows up to contribute $1.4 million to our economy; a child from a struggling family who becomes a criminal or welfare dependent costs our economy $2.8 million.


3) Improve the efficiency of our governments

The most feasible, cost-effective, and humane way to reduce government expenditures now is through more efficient and productive governmental policies, systems, and programs. Family and community based resources are more effective and much less costly than prisons, residential centers, and nursing homes. Three of the five Badger Basics for our state and local governments identified by the Governors Blue-Ribbon Commission on State-Local Partnerships for the 21st Century (Kettl Commission) are strongly affected by the preventable outcomes of struggling families:

  Education (underachievement, drop outs, and special education)

  Justice services (juvenile, family, and adult)

  Human services (child welfare, workforce development, TANF, nursing homes)

A state Family Policy Integration Board is needed to implement the Kettl Commissions recommendations as a platform for communication and collaboration between public-private state and local agencies, organizations, and citizens. It would coordinate fragmented state and local government policies, funding streams, and services that too often actually weaken families and increase the costs of governments.


A More Efficient Government that Strengthens Families


The primary responsibility for the well-being of children lies with their families, but all segments of society have a crucial stake in the well-being of childrearing families.


1) The political climate is ripe for strengthening families. Middle class families are struggling, and marginal families are being pushed into poverty. A 2010 Wisconsin Policy Research Institute survey revealed that 61% of voters see state government as tied to old rather than innovative practices.


2) Bipartisan support for strengthening families in Wisconsin was expressed when the Legislature established the Joint Legislative Council Special Committee on Strengthening Wisconsin Families for three biennia beginning in 2006. In 2009, the Joint Legislative Council recommended passage of Senate Bill 571 and Assembly Bill 825 to create a state level Family Policy Integration Board.

3) The success of high quality childcare and early childhood education depends heavily upon thriving families.


4) Best professional practices have shifted from child safety and removing children from their homes to neighborhood safety and strengthening families. Local governments are using the LEAN management system to improve efficiency through kaizen workshops.


FamiliesFirst Initiative


A FamiliesFirst Initiative with the following elements is needed to strengthen families:


1) Expand the Child Abuse and Neglect Pevention Board to become a Family Policy Board as a state/local, public/private, cross-agency platform for communication between state agencies and localities. This can be done by realigning existing programs and personnel at no additional cost.


2) Strengthen Childrearing Families

  The Rand Institute estimates a long-term cost-benefit of $6 for each dollar invested in home visitation for the parents of newborns. Examples of cost savings during the first year from home visitation programs in Wisconsin are:




Cost Savings

Green Bay

Prenatal Care Coordination

$250,000 in hospital costs over 2 years


Healthy Families

$425,000 annually in health, human services, and out-of-home placements.

Nine counties and one tribe

Family Foundations

50% reduction in emergency room usage; 75% reduction in child abuse and neglect; 77% reduction in out-of-home placements


  Collaborative Systems of Care in the form of interdisciplinary prevention & intervention teams produce immediate and long-term cost reductions. Costs of institutional placement of children and youth drop 50% to 100% in counties when Coordinated Services Teams are implemented:




Cost Savings

Calumet County

Saved over $1.2 million in out-of-home and health care costs between 1999 and 2002.

Lacrosse County

Diversion of children and youth who received crisis support services from institutional placement rose from 51% in 2003 to 87% in 2007.

Manitowoc County

From 2002 to 2007, foster care placements dropped from 113 to 104, group home placements from 11 to 0, and residential care placements from 20 to 0, saving over $2 million in 2007.

Marquette County

Out-of-home-placements dropped from 24 in 2004 to 2 in 2007.

Waupaca County

Saved $440,000 in out-of-home placements in 2004.


  Reducing ineffective incarceration for non-violent offenders would produce significant immediate and long-term cost reductions:

         Corrections is Wisconsins third-largest GPR program (8.8%), behind only the UW System (8.9%) and school aids (38.6%). Wisconsin has 13,613 more inmates than Minnesota with a comparable population. In 2008, corrections spending totaled $1.1 billion─134% more than Minnesota ($460 million).

         Incarceration of mothers and substitute care for their children costs the state over $17 million annually.

         If non-violent offenders with terms of two years or less were not incarcerated, over $72 million would be saved in prison costs each year.

         Drug court treatment programs avoid incarceration and reduce recidivism.

         Treatment Alternatives and Diversion Programs, such as the Pretrial Mental Health Intervention program in Milwaukee, save $3.30 for each dollar invested. The estimated net benefit to Milwaukee was $1.8 million for 2005, and the net benefit of a full-scale program would be $5.5 million annually.


  Teen pregnancy prevention

         Wisconsin public costs of teen childbearing are at least $156 million a year.

  Fatherhood Initiatives─opportunities and responsibilities enhance Child Support.

  Part-time post-secondary education and vocational programs for working parents.

  Premarital education and relationship skill-building promote stable families.

  Ensure eligible families receive food stamps.


3) Help Families Prepare Kids for Success in School

  Set and enforce standards for quality childcare.

  Early childhood education.

  4-year-old kindergarten.

  Promote literacy of parents.

  Milwaukee Childrens Zone


4) Safety in Homes and Neighborhoods

Neighborhood development and policing. (e.g. Joining Forces for Families in Dane County)

Homebuilders Intensive Family Preservation Services for child abuse and neglect:

    Avoid out-of home placement with $2.59 in benefits for each dollar of cost.

Create safer neighborhoods by resident collaboration with community policing.

Return 17-year-old offenders to the juvenile justice system.

  Implement the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative.

         Intensive supervision costs $35 a day vs. $115 a day in detention.

Respite care resources for families with children with special needs.

Kinship and guardian care subsidies.

Foster parent incentives and supports.


5) Healthy Kids

  Promote early childhood mental health.

  Increase access to Badger Care Plus.

  Reduce youth smoking.

  Reduce air pollution to help children and adults with asthma.